The help and vigilance of the Manx public is vital to tackling the threat posed to the Isle of Man by Asian hornets, set out in a new action plan published by the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.
The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is an aggressive predator of honeybees and other invertebrates, although they pose no greater risks to humans than a bee.
Many horticulturalists and farmers rely on insects such as honeybees to pollinate crops – for example rape seed oil and fruit – and they could be affected by any reduction in bee population as the result of a non-native predator such as the Asian hornet becoming established on the Island. Beekeepers are likely to be particularly concerned as their colonies could be devastated by such a predator.
Any rapid change in insect population would also carry a wider threat to the Isle of Man’s finely balanced biodiversity, which was recognised as part of UNESCO’s award to the Isle of Man of the designation of biosphere region in 2016.
The plan has three steps: awareness raising; interception; and long term management.
Dr Richard Selman, Senior Biodiversity Officer with DEFA, said:
'Raising awareness is the first step in building a defence against colonisation by the Asian hornet in the Isle of Man. We ask that the public and those interested in beekeeping in particular are vigilant and on their guard.
'The Asian hornet is not easily confused with any other species. It has a dark brown or black velvety body with a dark abdomen and yellow tipped legs and is smaller than the native European hornet. The public can access an identification sheet online.
'Anyone who has any concerns or suspects they may have spotted an Asian hornet should contact DEFA on 685835 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Harry Owens, the bee inspector, on email@example.com. We can then put in place steps to quickly assess and, if necessary, address the situation.
'As well as the environmental impact this species poses, there could be economic consequences. Isle of Man grown and produced food and drink is a growth area for the Island’s economy and so I hope the community can work together to safeguard the Island from this threat.'
The Asian hornet is native to parts of eastern Asia and was accidentally introduced to south-west France in 2004. It spread rapidly in France, and reached Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Italy by 2013 and has been found in the UK in 2016 and 2017, where eradications have taken place.
There was a sighting in Bury, Greater Manchester, earlier this month – the first of 2018 – which was later traced to Lincolnshire.
The Isle of Man Government recently joined neighbouring jurisdictions in launching the first British-Irish Invasive Species Week, recognising the ecological and economic threat posed by non-native animals and plants.